The film was nominated for five Academy Awards.
The film begins with eldest daughter Katrin completing the last lines of her autobiographical novel. As she reminisces about her family life, there is a flashback to 1910, where the first of a series of vignettes finds Marta Hanson preparing the weekly budget with her husband Lars, daughters Katrin, Christine and Dagmar, and son Nels, who announces his desire to attend high school. Each family member makes a financial sacrifice to contribute to the boy's education.
Marta's sister Trina arrives, announces she is marrying undertaker Peter Thorkelson, and implores Marta to break the news to their sisters Sigrid and Jenny. When Marta threatens to reveal embarrassing anecdotes about them, the women accept their sister's decision.
When Jonathan Hyde, the Hansons' impoverished lodger, reads A Tale of Two Cities aloud for the family, they are deeply moved by the story. Later, the family is visited by Marta's gruff but soft-hearted Uncle Chris and his housekeeper Jessie Brown, who is secretly his wife. When Chris discovers Dagmar is ill with mastoiditis, he insists on taking her to the hospital. Dagmar's operation is a success, but Marta is prohibited from seeing her. Disguised as a member of the housekeeping staff, she sneaks into Dagmar's ward and softly sings to her.
When Dagmar returns home, she learns her cat, Uncle Elizabeth, had been mauled and seriously injured during its outside wanderings. Despite Dagmar's belief in her mother's healing powers, Marta feels helpless to save the cat and sends Nels to buy chloroform so she can euthanize it. The following morning, she is astonished when Dagmar walks in with an apparently cured cat. Instead of killing the cat, the dose of chloroform that Marta had administered only provided the cat with the deep sleep it needed to aid its recovery.
Mr. Hyde suddenly and quietly moves out, leaving his classic books and a check for his accumulated months of rent. The family's initial joy of receiving the large rent payment quickly vanishes once they discover that the check has no value. Sigrid and Jenny are furious; but as Marta tears up the worthless piece of paper, she declares that Hyde's gift of literature is far more valuable than the money itself.
Katrin brags to Christine that their mother is going to buy her the dresser set she has long admired as a graduation present. As she is about to leave to perform in the school's production of The Merchant of Venice, Katrin learns that her mother traded her heirloom brooch for the gift. Distraught, the girl performs badly in the play and later retrieves the brooch after trading back the dresser set. Marta then gives the brooch to Katrin as a graduation present. Katrin's father presents her with her first cup of coffee, which she had been told she could drink once she was a grown-up. After taking a few sips of the "adult" beverage, Katrin is overcome with emotion by her parents' gesture, and she rushes out of the room.
Marta learns Uncle Chris is near death, and she takes Katrin to say goodbye. He reveals he has no money to leave his niece because he has been donating his income to help children with leg or foot problems walk again. After enjoying a final drink with his niece and Jessie, Uncle Chris dies peacefully in bed.
Katrin is dejected when she receives her tenth literary rejection letter. Marta then takes some of her stories to famed author and gourmand Florence Dana Moorhead and convinces her to read them. Marta returns home and advises her daughter that Moorhead feels the girl should write about what she knows best. Marta urges Katrin to write about Papa. When Katrin's story is accepted for publication, she is paid $500. After announcing some of the money will go towards the purchase of the winter coat Marta wants, Katrin confesses her story is titled Mama and the Hospital. She begins to read it to her family, and the story's introduction concludes and the film itself ends with the line "But first and foremost, I remember Mama".
Stevens originally offered the role of Mama to Greta Garbo, who balked at playing a motherly type. He then cast Irene Dunne, whom he had directed in Penny Serenade in 1941. Although she was 50 years old, the actress had a youthful appearance and had to be aged with makeup to portray the family matriarch convincingly. Oscar Homolka was the only member of the original Broadway cast to reprise his role for the film.
Some scenes were filmed on Rhode Island Street, on San Francisco's Potrero Hill.Irene Dunne as Marta 'Mama' Hanson
Barbara Bel Geddes as Katrin Hanson
Oskar Homolka as Uncle Chris Halvorsen
Philip Dorn as Lars 'Papa' Hanson
Steve Brown as Nels Hanson
Peggy McIntyre as Christine Hanson
June Hedin as Dagmar Hanson
Sir Cedric Hardwicke as Mr. Jonathan Hyde
Ellen Corby as Aunt Trina
Hope Landin as Aunt Jenny
Edith Evanson as Aunt Sigrid
Edgar Bergen as Peter Thorkelson
Florence Bates as Florence Dana Moorhead
Barbara O'Neil as Jessie Brown
Rudy Vallee as Dr. Johnson
Tommy Ivo as Arne
The film premiered as the Easter attraction at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
In his review in the New York Times, Bosley Crowther said the film "should prove irresistible" and added, "Irene Dunne does a beautiful job ... handling with equal facility an accent and a troubled look, [she] has the strength and vitality, yet the softness, that the role requires."
TV Guide calls it "a delicate charmer, sometimes precious, but nonetheless fine" and "meticulously directed."
The London-based magazine Time Out describes it as "a charmer . . . directed and acted with real delicacy."
It was named one of the year's Ten Best by Film Daily.
Despite receiving good reviews, it failed to turn a profit due to its high production costs.It recorded a loss of $1,040,000.
The film was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Dunne), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Homolka), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Bel Geddes and Corby) and Best Cinematography, Black-and-White (Musuraca).
Corby won the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress.
Bodeen was nominated for three Writers Guild of America Awards, for Best Written American Comedy, Best Written American Drama, and the Robert Meltzer Award for the Screenplay Dealing Most Ably with Problems of the American Scene.
Mama, a CBS television series starring Peggy Wood, ran from 1949 to 1957. The popularity and high ratings of the series prompted a national re-release of I Remember Mama in 1956.
After the success of the film version of I Remember Mama, Dunne, Homolka and Bel Geddes reprised their roles in an abbreviated 44-minute broadcast of the story on Lux Radio Theater in 1948.
There was also a British Independent Television production of I Remember Mama in 1961.
A musical stage adaptation, starring Liv Ullmann and George Hearn, had a three-month run in the Majestic Theatre on Broadway in 1979.Forbes, Kathryn (1968) Mama's Bank Account (Mariner Books, division of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) ISBN 978-0156563772